In mid-October, five area teachers were honored by the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee for their work in service learning, “… a form of experiential learning where students apply academic knowledge and critical thinking skills to address genuine community needs.”
Their projects – which range in scope from environmental activism to artistic expression and humanitarian assistance –clearly illustrate the impact teachers have upon both their students and the communities in which they teach.
We sat down with each award-winning teacher to find out more about what inspires them to engage with their students and their community in these powerful ways.
Chad Sperzel-Wuchterl of Ronald Reagan IB High School, Milwaukee received an honorable mention for his work in using art to inspire students and engage the area community. Through partnerships with MIAD, area colleges, Milwaukee Art Museum and other organizations, Sperzel has provided a unique outlet for the students’ work and a journey in self-discovery.
A relationship with a renowned photographer inspired students’ self-portraits and self-reflection. The project, “Voices of the Young” has been shown in City Hall and the state capitol building.
Through a partnership with the NY Times and Library of Congress, students took part in a project called “My Hometown,” depicting their lives through provocative photography. In addition to the world Mr. Sperzel-Wuchterl has opened up for students who many not have ever realized their potential, he works to raise awareness of the effectiveness of art programs in IB schools. He is a well-respected leader in his school and district as department chair, gallery curator, yearbook coordinator and art club supervisor. As such he has a number of firsts under his belt, having created the first 3-room whitewall gallery in MPS. He also organized the first high school art gallery exhibit in UW Stevens Point and coordinated the first MPS students to be featured on Art Mail Milwaukee.
Celebrate Teachers & Teaching: Why did you decide to dedicate your life to teaching?
Chad Sperzel-Wuchterl: When I was in high school I had an Art Teacher who challenged me and pushed me to achieve high standards. He inspired me to challenge and teach others and he showed me the value and need for quality art programs.
CTT: What are some of the positive transformations you’ve seen within your school and your students since implementing a service-learning curriculum?
CSW: It’s really that the connection to the community builds and supports the programs implemented in the school. The students begin to understand the needs of the families and the people around them, and that learning becomes personal and intrinsic.
CTT: How do you envision the lessons and skills students learn through service-learning projects translating into improvement within your community and/or the city of Milwaukee?
CSW: In the service learning projects at Ronald Reagan High School, the students accomplish three man goals: they discover the diversity in their community, they learn about their history of the people from their community and they gain differentiated skills that are applicable to the diverse needs of every community.
The goal is to educate students so that they will bring what they have learned back to their community and engage in the work of improving not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them
The whole process ends up helping to mold students to become inquisitive and knowledgeable. We get them thinking and they become better communicators. It also helps them to become principled human beings, open-minded citizens, caring people and risk takers (in a good way). The skills they gain help them to be balanced and reflective.
CTT: Have you observed any benefits beyond those that are academic-related for students who participate in service-learning projects? If so, can you describe them?
CSW: I have seen the kids grow and use what they have learned in the careers they pursue after graduation – which include teachers, lawyers, environmentalists, artists and designers.
I also see it in their research for other art projects, historical investigations and contemporary investigations. Ultimately, they begin to focus their work on local problems, challenges, and discoveries.
CTT: What motivates you to continue pushing yourself (“keep calm, teach on”) as a teacher often faced with stressors unimaginable for those outside the teaching profession?
CSW: There are many things. The students, for one.
I also believe in the IB Visual Arts program – and that the arts should be considered a core part of the curriculum and not just an elective. I’m motivated by the struggle for quality instruction in our community, and rigorous programs that both challenge and enrich the lives of our kids.
It’s also really important to me to create an awareness of the Arts in our community, help others to value the Arts and motivate others to work toward that same goal.